Reviews

One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels

Author: Erik Thompson
04/08/2010 | Thelineofbestfit.com | www.thelineofbestfit.com | Album Review
When an album gets re-released, it usually is for one of two reasons: either the label didn't feel that the record received enough recognition the first time around, remastering it in the hopes that the material finds a wider audience; or the recording sessions produced such an extensive amount of unreleased material that it warrants a reissue of the original album, bolstered by a plethora of bonus tracks and alternate takes. In the case of One Jug Of Wine, Two Vessels, a collaborative EP by Bright Eyes and Neva Dinova that was originally released in 2004 on Crank! Records, it seems that both of these motivations factor in to its re-release, albeit only to a certain extent. The original EP is indeed augmented by brand new material on the current Saddle Creek reissue, however it's limited to two new songs each from Neva Dinova and Bright Eyes, including the first new songs released under the Bright Eyes moniker since 2007's Cassadaga. The fact that Bright Eyes, specifically Conor Oberst, has attracted a much broader spotlight in the time that has passed since Vessels release clearly brings this reissue to the attention of a larger audience, if they haven't already sought out the original. But far from expanding on the allure of Bright Eyes, what this re-release will ultimately accomplish is exposing unfamiliar listeners to the subtle grandeur of Neva Dinova, which is probably exactly what Oberst and Saddle Creek are hoping for.

Neva Dinova is the brainchild of Jake Bellows, a singer/songwriter who, like Oberst, is from Omaha, Nebraska. The two reconvened in 2009 at producer Mike Mogis' Presto! Studios to record the four new songs found on this collection. And while the new material maintains the effortless feel of the original tracks, the new songs reflect an added maturity and depth that six more years in the music industry is bound to bring. Neva Dinova's first new offering, 'Rollerskating,' kicks the album off spiritedly, and is reminiscent of Oberst's recent work with Monsters Of Folk, with Bellows voice echoing M. Ward's at the start of the song. The relaxed nature of the session and easy camaraderie of the participants shines through on this leisurely but still uplifting track. 'Happy Accident' finds Oberst now looking for the happiness that he famously discarded on his 1998 album Letting Off The Happiness. It's a highly suggestive nod to his past, especially now that the future of Bright Eyes is in question, and fits in nicely to his ever growing canon of songs while distancing himself from his increasingly countrified current output.

'Someone's Love' is quite stellar, and the best of the four new songs on offer here, showcasing Bellows sleepy drawl over a bouncy barroom piano riff. The lyrics grow progressively more suggestive as the subject grows bolder and drunker, and as the night begins to fade he just wants someone finer than himself to take him down, giving him more than just a bar-stool to live for. The last of the new tracks is Bright Eyes 'I Know You,' which hints at the lyrical cadence of Cassadaga's 'Coat Check Dream Song.' It's a strong, dynamic song featuring some fine couplets from Oberst as well as a stellar trumpet solo, and again represents a subtle shift in form for Conor, returning to the more plaintive, pleading tones of his older material. For those that have the original release of Vessels, this concludes the new songs recorded for the reissue, but that shouldn't prevent you from rediscovering the stark beauty of the songs on the initial EP. And for those who haven't heard these earlier songs, the new material should serve as a smooth gateway into these older but no less affecting songs.

There is a homespun charm to all of these older tracks, recorded in a variety of Omaha basements in 2004, with a simplicity and warmth to them that permeates all of the material. The songs never try to sound polished or perfect, but somehow still managing to come off as accomplished and poignant just the same. Bellows and Oberst again alternate material, assuming lead vocals on each of their own songs other than the Oberst-penned closer 'Spring Cleaning,' which has Bellows singing the somber lead. And while the songs are somewhat slight and intentionally underproduced, there are some hidden gems here, like the melancholy passion of 'Black Comedy' and 'Poison,' as well as the saxophone aided, Springsteen-stomp of 'I'll Be Your Friend.' Both the new and old songs on One Jug Of Wine, Two Vessels, reflects the casual sound of two old friends returning to their simple roots and playing music together, something Oberst and Bellows have been doing since they were kids. And that carefree conviviality comes through clearly in the music, which was never intended to change the world, just to give some kindred spirits an excuse to jam together. We should all be so lucky to have such talented friends.


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